I-35 rest stop janitor run over, killed on the job
Greg Blackburn was just doing one of his jobs Wednesday evening — as janitor at the Mahtowa rest stop along Interstate 35 in Carlton County — when he was run over by the driver of a pickup truck.
Blackburn, 62, was killed, and the driver of the truck that hit him fled the scene and led law enforcement on a 25-mile-long high-speed chase. The pursuit ended when Minnesota State Patrol troopers ran a pickup truck driver off the road in Hermantown.
Relatives on Thursday identified Blackburn as the victim. He had worked in the maintenance job at the Minnesota Department of Transportation rest stop for about five years, they said. Blackburn was also a contract newspaper carrier for the Duluth News Tribune.
“He was a hard worker. He was always there before the (newspaper) truck at 2 a.m. And he cared so much about his customers,” said Sue Anderson, Cloquet field representative for the News Tribune. “He did his job seven days a week for 12 years and only called in sick once. He’s going to be missed by a lot of people in Cloquet.”
On the day after Christmas 2011, Blackburn reported a garage on fire in Cloquet at 3 a.m. while delivering papers. Cloquet firefighters arrived to find the garage fully engulfed in flames, and they evacuated three residents sleeping in the house just 6 feet from the burning garage. Blackburn was credited with the early detection of what could have been a tragic fire.
A 55-year-old rural Duluth man arrested after the hit-and-run and high-speed chase is in the Carlton County jail. The Carlton County Attorney’s Office said he’s expected to be charged this morning.
State Patrol officials said they were first called to the Culkin Rest Area off northbound I-35 about 5:30 p.m. on reports that a 2004 Ford pickup struck a man who was walking at the rest stop. Witnesses saw the pickup leaving the scene.
Minutes after the incident was reported, a State Patrol trooper spotted a vehicle matching the description traveling north on I-35 at more than 90 mph near Highway 210. The trooper used his lights and siren to try to stop the driver, but the driver would not stop, the State Patrol said.
A chase continued up I-35, onto Boundary Avenue in Proctor, onto U.S. Highway 2 and into Hermantown and eventually onto LaVaque, Maple Grove and Stebner roads. Proctor and Hermantown police also gave chase. The Carlton and St. Louis County sheriff’s offices as well as a Department of Natural Resources officer assisted in the pursuit.
Law enforcement officers tried to stop the pickup with stop-sticks on the road but were unsuccessful, the State Patrol said. The pickup was still traveling at more than 90 mph and was seen swerving to avoid vehicles.
A trooper forced the pickup driver off the road using a “pursuit intervention technique,” which involves nudging or hitting the other vehicle, and he was arrested by state troopers, the State Patrol said.
Bonnie Newton, Blackburn’s cousin, said Thursday that funeral arrangements were awaiting the completion of an autopsy.
Newton and Anderson said Blackburn would be remembered as a small guy with a big heart and outgoing personality who liked to tell jokes.
Newton said Blackburn was a lifelong resident of Cloquet. He never married and had no siblings, she said, but he took care of his 89-year-old mother, Shirley Blackburn, with whom he lived in a Cloquet high-rise apartment.
“It’s really sad,” Newton said. “They looked after each other for so many years. ... It’s going to be hard for Shirley now.”
Wednesday’s incident was the area’s third serious hit-and-run since Sunday.
On Sunday, a bicyclist was hit and seriously injured on the corner of Minnesota Highway 61 and Rolling Road near Esko. Carol Emily Nygren, 69, of Esko, was arrested Monday and charged Tuesday with criminal vehicular homicide.
The injured bicyclist, Michael Howard Norton, 43, of Duluth, was listed in fair condition at St. Luke’s hospital in Duluth on Wednesday.
Authorities said Thursday they are still looking for a damaged pickup truck and the driver who struck and severely injured a man who was helping his friend with their stalled vehicle along I-35 near Hinckley on Monday night.
Trevor Langlois, 24, of Wyoming, Minn., was hit about 10:50 p.m. Monday along southbound I-35 in Hinckley by a late-model Ford F-150. He was taken to a Duluth hospital in critical condition, according to the Pine County Sheriff’s Office.
Authorities say they are looking for a 2010 or newer Ford F-150 XLT four-door pickup with a partly missing passenger-side mirror and moderate to heavy damage to the right front bumper, hood and quarter panel.